The Happiest Lettering On Earth

Written by Corey Holms on March 8, 2004

On a recent trip to Disneyland in Southern California, I noticed I was taking just as many photos of type as I was of my kids. Regardless of how you feel about the Disney company, one has to admit that if by nothing other than sheer quantity alone, their support of typographers and sign painters is truly astounding. Just like in any city, there is typography at every turn, but unlike the city I live in, Disneyland has chosen to use very few vinyl transfers — instead, nearly every sign, window, trash can, or placard is completely hand painted.

I have compiled a collection of several that I found interesting.

The (not inexpensive) choice to discard vinyl transfer in favor of a team of sign painters, shows an attention to detail that looks further than the bottom line. I can only imagine the complexity of information design required for a theme park the size of Disneyland; but someone was not content with merely appropriate signage, it had to be appropriate, context sensitive signage (making certain that the vernacular used is correct for the time period you are meant to be experiencing). From the pun names painted on the second floor windows of Main Street USA to the faux wood grain trash cans, hand-painted with log letters, from advertisements for fantasy travel companies to help pass the time in lines, to hand-scripted names with ornate filigrees painted onto storybook boats — they may not be 100 percent historically accurate (the wooden type on Frontierland trash cans springs to mind), but they evoke an emotional reaction that the smallest child can understand.

While attempting to track down some of the typefaces used in the park, I found a site best described as a true typespotter’s guide to the Disney theme parks. Although the research behind the typefaces is fairly thorough, the originality of some of the linked fonts is dubious.

See also: Alpengeist : Olde Sign Fonts from Letterhead

Corey Holms studied graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts, and has been practicing it for over 15 years. He has worked with a wide range of clients from multinational corporations to local boutiques. Although primarily working in entertainment design, he also specializes in type and identity design. He has been responsible for several award winning campaigns, if that sort of thing matters.


  1. BJ HARVEY says:

    Great job Corey.

    I have a bunch from the other side, too, Disneyland California, if you’d like them.

  2. Hildebrant says:

    Great stuff, always a pleasure to see the embrace of true craftsmanship.

  3. John B. says:

    Amazing stuff… it’s interesting to spot the fonts amonth the hand lettering. h For instance “letterbox” uses Papyrus. Jungle_cruise_03 uses Tiki Island by House Industries. Trash_neworleans looks familiar… some Emigre font?

  4. Luke Prowse says:

    It’s such a delight to peruse through so many exquisite examples of hand lettering, and hugely refreshing to see such appreciation of the craft by Disney.

  5. Kristin says:

    Way to wreck my life plan, Corey! I have never before imagined a single reason I would want to go to Disneyland. I hate crowds. i hate the noise of crowds! I live in Minneapolis and refuse to go to the Mall of America.

    Now you’ve gone and wrecked that. I had no idea there was anything like what you’ve managed to capture in your lovely picture collection.

    My paradigm has shifted. :sob:

  6. Matthew says:

    That is one amazing collection. It makes me wish I had paid more attention to the details when I visited Disneyland as a youngster.

    Now for something a little off topic. I am a high school student with a budding interest in typography. I was wondering if there is any insight or secrets you can tell me about the typographic world, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  7. Kristin and anyone else who has had this problem: There is a bug in Movable Type (the engine that runs this blog). When you reload the page after posting a comment, your comment gets re-posted. The work-around is to go to the main Typographica page and come back here from there. Then you can reload the page as often as you want.

  8. Matthew: Eric Gill, the designer of Gill Sans, wore silk underwear. Although, I guess that’s not exactly a secret.

    Seriously, there is a lot of stuff on this site as well as on Be sure to check out the forums there.

  9. Thanks for your tip on the bug, Mark. I think it’s an error in our custom template, not MT. We’ll definitely look to fix it as we update the site in coming weeks.

  10. Hrant says:

    > Eric Gill, the designer of Gill Sans, wore silk underwear.

    When he wore any at all.

    Here’s a secret for you, Matthew: once you’re in there is no out.


  11. Heh, heh. Check out the Google Ads on this page. No telling what will show up if we keep talking about Gill.

  12. Miss Tiffany says:

    Kristin, I’m with you. Although I’m guilty of people watching at local malls.

  13. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the responses, I will definitely check out the rest of the site along with

    Silk underwear, hmmmm….. boxers or briefs?

  14. hang on a minute…
    In the past I’ve enthused up the wazoo about Victorian style lettering, providing links along the way, only to have it fall on deaf ears; and only now you people are waking up to the beauty and craft of this flourished, flowery and flowing style of hand-painted work? And it’s sponsored by that EvilAmericanMultiNationalCorporation, the Walt Disney Company?

  15. Martin – Your day will come, and it will be glorious.

  16. Darren says:

    So, we aren’t the only guys interested in the signage at Disney?

    The ‘hand-painted-ness’ is also another reason they can charge so much for everything!

    But, usually well worth it.

    Your photos are great.

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